In the closing keynote for the conference, CIO magazine Editor-in-Chief Abbie Lundberg introduced the former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, outlining the extensive and significant achievements of her diplomatic career.
Secretary Albright took the stage. “Thank you, Abbie, for that kind introduction. As you recount the things that happened, I think . . . it’s too bad they don’t stay done.” She then delivered a talk rich with information, contemplation, some criticism, hope and humor. Here are some excerpts.
I am afraid to say I’m allergic to computers. But I have an excuse since I was born halfway between the invention of the BlackBerry and the discovery of fire.
When I went to write my memoir, Madam Secretary, I had it a lot easier than previous Secretaries, who had to sift through boxes and boxes of files. I had scanned every piece of correspondence electronically, and it was saved on a CD. So, thanks to technology, my whole career was compressed into the size of a double album by Madonna.
Politically now, we’re in the track of a “perfect storm,” made up of terrorism, Iraq and the Middle East. [She elaborated on these.]
Other storms include Putin’s retreat from democracy in Russia, genocide in Sudan with no viable plan to stop it, Iran and North Korea who have or will soon have nuclear weapons. And our relationships with Europe. We used to rely for unity and strength on transatlantic bonds. A new psychology of separation has begun to take hold. Are we still allies?
As we prepare for a year of change, think about what doesn’t change. We stand for a haven for religious freedom, the Bill of Rights, the end of slavery, the fall of Berlin Wall. We believe in the rights and responsibility of the individual. Many things are complicated, but this is not. Honor and value liberty and never take for granted the blessings that come from living in the world’s greatest democracy. Our journey is an upward one. Now we look forward with determination to see that our adversaries fail in their purpose of destruction.
Then Abbie Lundberg and the audience had some questions for Secretary Albright.
Lundberg: If you had one piece of concrete advice for President Bush, what would it be?
Albright: I have to tell you he doesn’t listen to me. [laughter] I think that what would be very significant would be to admit that there have been mistakes and we do need the help of others to deal with the issues I mentioned in my remarks. These issues require great cooperation in sharing intelligence and things that know no borders. We can’t be arrogant. I had said that the United States was indispensable, but that doesn’t mean we have to do things alone.
Lundberg: What role do you see large corporations having on the world stage?
Albright: I think they can play an important role. Basically multinational corporations can help and be partners—and not adversaries—with countries. And governments could be helpful to them in negotiating trade and IP rights and the like. As Secretary I liked meeting with CEOs and other business leaders because they had great information about what’s going on on the ground. Large corporations are not necessarily the enemy. But it’s essential that American corporations be good citizens wherever in the world they are. They have to be seen as adding, not exploiting, in terms of human rights, the environment and other issues.
Ron Bonig, George Washington University: What are your views on China?
Albright: China is one of our most interesting and big challenges because of its rapid development and large population. They clearly play an important role already. For instance, they’ve played an important role in talks on North Korea. We were able to bring China into the WTO, which allows certain rules to be carried out by the international community. I also believed it was necessary not to just have a unidimensional policy. We should be able to talk about human rights while we negotiate trade with them. Be engaged without necessarily approving. But, it behooves us to have a positive relationship with China.
Bob Cushman, Worker Benefit Plans: My question is on privacy rights versus national security. What do you think?
Albright: For us at home, the question is what’s the derogation of human rights and what’s just plain irritating. I get wanded every time I go through an airport. And they ask me for my autograph while they’re doing it…. To me that’s not a derogation of rights, it’s just irritating. But I’ve run into a lot of booksellers and librarians and they’ve made me see that the Patriot Act is a misnomer. Tracking what people read is more a derogation of rights. My students, for example, who write papers on terrorism, wonder how much they’re being checked up on. We’ve swung the wrong direction.
Lundberg: Intelligence communities are trying to find better ways to share information. What do you think of putting all different information about citizens into one place?
Albright: I do think there needs to be sharing. We need to get cooperation between the CIA and FBI. They have been proprietary and haven’t shared. The question is the extent to which we are not connected. It is essential that we share. It’s the only way we can deal with terrorists, by tracking money and figuring out who they are, where they’re going, and who’s in charge. That’s why selecting the right leaders is so important. Information is just the raw material.